According to Mary Witkowski, head of historical collections at the Bridgeport Public Library, it was on March 15, 1878 that famous showman and former Bridgeport Mayor P.T. Barnum and other community leaders obtained the state legislature's approval to incorporate Bridgeport Hospital. Shortly after, a Board of Directors was named and Barnum was elected as its first president.

Bridgeport Hospital circa 1900 But the hospital's story really begins a few years earlier, when Columbia Medical School graduate Dr. George Lewis returned from the Civil War and set up his practice in Bridgeport. At that time, the closest thing to a hospital in the city was the basement of the future police headquarters, where infection and mortality rates were high among the emergency patients and poor residents who received care there.

Dr. Lewis persuaded his aunt, Susan Hubbell, to bequeath $13,500 and an acre at the top of Mill Hill for the construction of a real hospital. Ground was broken for the new hospital in 1883, and on Nov. 12, 1884, Bridgeport Hospital began treating patients. It was the first hospital in Fairfield County and only the third in Connecticut along with Yale-New Haven Hospital (then known as New Haven Hospital) and Hartford Hospital.

Bridgeport Hospital today

From its humble beginnings in a 19th century cow pasture, Bridgeport Hospital, built for about $120,000, has grown into a $337 million regional healthcare organization, serving 19,000 inpatients and nearly 207,000 outpatients a year. Although it may be expressed in slightly different terms, Bridgeport Hospital's vision essentially remains what it was at the time of its founding: "to provide advanced medical care and health promotion with excellence and compassion."